I have been feeling kind of guilty because GetReligion hasn't even mentioned the bizarre semi-story of the week that has been so hot out there in the blogosphere, especially on conservative Catholic sites. I am referring to that strange little interview that New York Times reporter Deborah Solomon did with Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. In case you missed the wave of cybercoverage of this story, including in our own comments pages, here are the remarks that have been getting so much attention:
How many members of the Episcopal Church are there in this country?
About 2.2 million. It used to be larger percentagewise, but Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children.
Episcopalians aren't interested in replenishing their ranks by having children?
No. It's probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.
As you can imagine, great fun was had in the usual places because of this statement. Anglican capitalists sprang into action, as did humorists. Lots of amused or angry people wrote letters to email@example.com.
This would explain why the Episcopal Church has, in a generation or so, lost a million members and many that remain are getting a bit long in the tooth. Losses have been especially sharp in the past two or three years, as discussed in this story in the liberal mainline Protestant journal The Christian Century.
Catholic writers, in particular, were rather miffed that the Episcopal leader created such a stark equation that said, in effect: Our numbers are declining because we are smarter and care more about the environment than all of those populist Catholics and Mormons (recall that Jefferts Schori was bishop of the tiny Diocese of Nevada before her election as archbishop).
But I didn't quite know what to say about this Times mini-interview because, for starters, I thought the questions were interesting and so were the answers. It is also true that when people get richer, more urban and very highly educated they tend to have fewer children. And the heart of the Episcopal Church's leadership comes from areas that are rich, urban and highly, highly educated. At the same time, the Episcopal Church's parishes that are experiencing rapid growth tend to be in the Sunbelt, in growing suburban areas and popular with young, growing families.
So it was a good interview, with a few interesting questions that produced interesting responses, much like that Here & Now public radio interview that produced the new presiding bishop's revealing comments about people finding salvation through the culturally appropriate religion of their choice.
Quirky questions. Quirky answers. That's good, right? Like that question about her husband and their long-distance marriage?
You were previously bishop of Nevada, but your new position requires you to live in New York City. Do you and your husband like it here?
He is actually in Nevada. He is a retired mathematician. He will be here in New York when it makes sense.
The question for me is whether Jefferts Schori will continue to be this candid in interviews with news organizations that she respects and to which she wants to talk in order to reach her liberal base. Is it possible that she felt too comfortable talking to the Times and to a public-radio show? That she felt a bit too secure?
I, for one, hope that her candor continues. I have always enjoyed covering religious leaders -- on the left and the right -- who have strong convictions and are not afraid to share them near microphones and pens.